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The Vesuvius Club - Mark Gatiss
Member Name: Mauri
The Vesuvius Club - Mark Gatiss
Date: 08/05/06, updated on 09/05/06 (197 review reads)
Advantages: great fun, well written
Disadvantages: Poor Illustrations
Many readers will know Mark Gatiss as one of the people behind the macabre and surreal TV comedy ‘The League of Gentlemen’. He is also an avid fan of sci-fi and graphic novels so it is no surprise that his literary debut should be steeped in those traditions.
‘The Vesuvius Club’ is the first outing for the Edwardian Artist/Scoundrel/Socialite/Secret agent the aptly named Lucifer Box. Lucifer is a colourful character to say the least. A society painter by profession his other line of work on ‘Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ was forced upon him by the threat of having some immoral indiscretions with like minded young men brought in to the public eye at a time where that would mean imprisonment. Persuaded by the spymaster Joshua Reynolds (not The Joshua Reynolds) Box becomes the most adept of British agents and is also now protected when pursuing his more exotic sexual and intellectual appetites.
Lucifer Box is not an upstanding member of polite Edwardian society in fact he is the very thing that many respectable people fear. He has deflowered many an innocent young woman (and man) and has often had to get himself out of some terrible scrapes involving a jealous lover, husband or protective father.
The richness of the character is completed by housing him in N.9 Downing Street (“Someone has to live there”) and the presence of his redoubtable sidekick and domestic Delilah.
Lucifer Box is asked by his spy contact Reynolds to investigate the strange disappearance of England foremost authorities on Vulcanology (the study of Volcanoes to you and me). Who or what has been targeting these eminent scientists and for what purpose? Things are further complicated when Lucifer’s best friend and fellow artist Christopher Miracle is arrested for murder. Can Lucifer prove his friend innocent solve the mystery of the missing academics and still have his wicked way with his new student the beautiful Bella.
The novel is populated by weird and unusual characters like the beautiful Miss Bella Pok, Lucifer’s female love interest or should that be ‘lust’ interest. The name is a play on the term ‘La Belle Epoch’ meaning "the pretty era" a period in the late 19th century that was considered by many to be a golden age for culture, art and beauty and Bella seems to embody these virtues. This play with words serves well to illustrate Gatiss’ wit that permeates through his writing. We also meet Charlie Jackpot a young servant who quickly becomes a new sidekick for Lucifer and much more.
All the character names used in the book are unusual, slightly Dickensian sounding. Inspector Flush, Backlash Kitty, Maxwell Morraine, Midsomer Knight, Lady Constance Tutt-Haffenschafft, Jocelyn Utterson Poop, Major Strangeways Pugg and my favourite Cretaceous Unman. During the course of the adventure that takes us from London to Naples we also meet a variety of sinister Turks, mysterious Italians and enigmatic Orientals as Lucifer progresses his investigation through gothic cemeteries, sewers, steam baths, opium dens and brothels.
“Lucifer Box! Hah! Was ever a rascal so well named? You are the devil sir, the very devil!”
Just like in the Flashman novel the lead character is a rogue but a charming one nonetheless, the kind of immoral rake that women can’t avoid being attracted to and one that men can’t fail to grudgingly admire or at least envy. Box is the ultimate libertine, he is androgynous is his sexual appetite and amoral in his use of stimulants and the pursuit of fame and wealth it just happens that (not by choice) he manages to save the Empire from its numerous enemies by his varied array of skills whether this be his prodigious fighting skills or his ability as a cat burglar.
Lucifer Box is a depraved Edwardian version of James Bond and the story has some appropriately fiendish Bond like villains.
“Where is your oh-so elegant poise now, Mr Box?” he taunted. Filthy and gagged, I was in no position to reply.”
The scale of the story also matches the Bond film propositions, the villain’s hideaway is suitably exotic and the henchmen make tough opponents for Lucifer.
'The Vesuvius Club' is very much a 'visual' story; every sentence evokes a lush picture of the opulence and at the same time the seediness of Edwardian Europe. A fair amount of attention is given on the descriptions of the clothes locations and the inclusion of the illustrations at the beginning of each chapter are a way to lead the reader in to a visual impression of the world that Gatiss is describing.
Mark Gatiss has attempted to create the atmosphere that one normally associates with graphic novels, the larger than life characters, the gaudy illustrations and use of vibrant colour in a written text. It almost works. The downside to this approach is that many of the characters come across as being quite two-dimensional which while not a fatal flaw in this type of fast paced adventure, it does to a slight extent detract from the success of the project. To be honest I had a slight problem with the illustrations, not to their inclusion per se since I thought that was a good idea and it added to the sense of this being a very visual book. The drawings were meant more to set the mood of the story than to illustrate the events but I didn’t like the style that was used and I found them a little to abstract and sketchy.
The novel has been very successful and has been nominated in the Waterstones newcomer category. The Vesuvius Club has a lot to be admired and while the style or setting is not totally original for those with an interest in the genre I think Gatiss insistence to camp things up and not to take himself too seriously makes this a enjoyable read. Certainly the dark humour and the immoral irreverent attitudes of the lead character will hit the right buttons with ‘League of Gentlemen’ fans. The novel is littered with well-crafted passages that serve to eloquently present Lucifer as the flamboyant egotistical dandy that he surely is.
“Lighting a cigarette, I re-pocketed my watch and, rising, dabbed a napkin at the corners of my full-lipped mouth (it’s a very pretty mouth – more of that later).”
This book is no more than imaginatively well-written fluff but that is not to its detriment in fact it is enjoyable because of its escapism.
Suspend belief, political correctness, and morality and enjoy. Highly recommended!
‘The Vesuvius Club’ can be bought from Amazon for £5.59 (+p&p) at the time of this review.
© Mauri 2006
Summary: The name is BOX, Lucifer BOX (Edwardian James Bond)